'Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire' by 'Alex von Tunzelmann' is a history book that deals with the events leading to and after the Independence and the Partition of India. It also takes a closer look into the lives of the main players involved in the Indian politics at that time. Most of the history books look into the events and what caused those events. Rarely a book forays into the personal lives of the characters. This book goes beyond just facts and it tells about the chemistry between many leaders involved in the Indian freedom struggle. The build up to Independence was well described by Tunzelmann.
As the cover page suggests, the romantic relationship between Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten is more or less centrestage of the book. In fact, the relationship between Edwina and Louis Mountbatten and their relationships with other men and women were discussed in detail. These were then used to tell that Edwina’s relationship with Nehru was out of mutual admiration for each other’s work and difficulties in their fields. Mountbatten never objected to their relationship as he did for her relations with other men. This closeness between Nehru and Edwina was later subject of gossip in power circles of Delhi and Jinnah believed that it was used to give unfair concessions to India during and post Independence. Even after Independence they kept writing letters to each other and whenever they visited each other’s country, they made it a point to meet each other. Tunzelmann also tells us that Mountbatten and Nehru-Gandhi family refused to share the correspondence between them which could have been used to divulge more details of their relationship as well as that of the freedom struggle and their opinion about the events happening then.
Tunzelmann paints Louis Mountbatten, affectionately known as Dickie, as a person who lacked military acumen but was given critical assignments in Navy because of friendship with powerful persons of his time in United Kingdom and because of his semi-royal lineage. His handling of many events was questioned and he almost died in one such mishap. Then he was given the most important assignment of his life - Viceroyalty of India. His task was cut out before he landed on the Indian soil - to smoothly transfer the power to two successor states - India and Pakistan. How much he succeeded in that is a matter of great debate, but in retrospect it could be said that he could have done little when riots started and when there was no clear border demarcation. Tunzelmann also dwells into the life of Dickie after his service in Navy and discusses about the plot of a coup in United Kingdom in which Dickie was asked to play a significant role.
Two leaders of the freedom movement who commanded great respect and command from public and leaders alike were Gandhi and Jinnah, although they have their appeals limited to sections of the society. Gandhi brought the spirituality into the movement which was till then largely irreligious. His idea of village centered democracy was cheered by the common public but was hotly debated by the leaders like Nehru. Many times in the freedom movement Gandhi took backseat but continued to exert his influence through leaders like Nehru. Nehru needed Gandhi for leadership who can inspire the masses and Gandhi needed someone who can turn his words into the actions. They both needed each other. On the other hand Jinnah, once a staunch supporter of Hindu-Muslim unity, later insisted on separate country of Pakistan. Tunzelmann gives many instances to tell that he may not have thought that he will get Pakistan and this was more likely his bargaining chip. In fact, according to some sources he admitted before dying that creation of Pakistan was the biggest mistake of his life.
The main events after Independence that were described by Tunzelmann are Kashmir problem, accession of Hyderabad and Junagadh states to India. He describes Sardar Patel as iron handed in approach and as one who used all the options available on the table to make princely states accede to India. Nehru handled Kashmir and his association with that state was described by the author to be less pragmatic and more emotional. Probably Nehru’s family roots as a Kashmiri Pandit had much to do with his emotional association with Kashmir. Towards the end of his life his authority deteriorated and he was visibly a lonely man. He made his mind to resign from the post of Prime Minister but was persuaded not to do that.
Tunzelmann’s style of presenting story is credible. The way she recreated the events of history was good, not to forget the analysis of the dilemma and emotions from the letters of that period like those between Edwina and Nehru; and between Jinnah and Churchill. Starting the book with describing India as faring better than England during Aurangzeb’s rule, she went on to describe the ups and downs of the Company Raj and then British Raj. She ends the book on optimistic note that India and Pakistan continue chasing the dream of their forefathers.